A Gateau Fraisier for a Garden Party

Strawberry season is definitely here with a bang and strawberries in season taste so much better than the imported variety bought out of season and they are quintessentially part of the British summer.  However it is the French who turn the humble strawberry into a work of culinary art with the Gateau Fraisier, which sounds so much better than “Strawberry Cake”, which is all Gateau Fraisier means in English .

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I have been meaning to do this cake ever since I spotted it during a baking trawl through the internet, and the garden party we hosted in the village seemed the perfect occasion to finally try it out. Why were we hosting? Well there is a tradition here called “Open Gardens” where various people in a village (it seems to be mainly a country thing) open their gardens to the public for a small fee to raise funds for the community in some way.  We decided to host a small bring-a-dish party for everyone who took part as none of us met each other on the day, and the Fraisier was my contribution to the table.  The Gateau was a great hit and I only just managed to get a  slice myself.

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I have to say this is a gorgeous cake.  The husband says it is now top of his list.  The combination of flavours and textures is perfection, especially on a summers day. Is it tricky?  Well sort of and sort of not. It consists of 2 layers of sponge  sandwiching strawberries and  kirsch flavoured vanilla creme mousseline (which I realised is exactly the same as german buttercream), all topped off with lightly coloured marzipan. The trickiness comes in the number of stages, and the need to chill it in the fridge  to set it firm.  You need a mousse ring for the assembly, though the side of spring form tin will do if you don’t have one, and a bit of time.

Now I know normally I tell you something about the origins of a cake, and given this one has the status of a French Classic you would have thought there would be reams of information about it.  You would however be very mistaken – quite simply no-one knows where or when it came from.  Even resorting to googling in French drew a complete blank.

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The googling did however show me a few of the variations, which centre mainly over the sponge and the top.  There seems to be a split between Victoria Sponge and Genoise, with the majority of recipes going for genoise.  I plumped for Victoria Sponge after last week’s Genoise dramas.  I felt the firmer sponge would be easier and suit the cake better, and if it is good enough for Eric Lanlard it is good enough for me. I suspect though that I have committed a french culinary faux pas by doing so, and a genoise is probably the better option as long as you eat the cake straight away.

The marzipan is traditionally coloured green, but there are many varieties on this one.  The other options for the top are  a strawberry or raspberry gelatin glaze.  I have even seen  a combination of the 2 which I was tempted to try, but for lack of time.

No bake at the moment seems to be without  its dramas at the moment, and this was no exception.  I wanted to do a 10″ cake because we had over 30 people coming.  So I got the calculator out, multiplied up and ended up with a monster cake that was twice the size I needed.  Added to that when I cut it into 3,  I realised the slices were way too thick.  You want 1 cm slices at the very most and mine were 2cm. My only choice was to try to slice a 2cm cake in half by eye – not an easy task at all.  This is the second time I have tried to increase the size of an original recipe and gone wrong, so I shall not do it again.

What else do you need to look out for?  Well in summary(and the picture shows the imperfections if you don’t follow these tips)

  • cut the starwberries neatly
  • put them straight on to the bottom sponge layer
  • you really need to make sure the creme mousseline is pushed firmly around the strawberries around the edge before filling with more strawberries, otherwise you get small gaps around the strawberry which destroys the look of this beauty
  • think about lining your mould with baking parchment so you get smooth edge on demoulding

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I am afraid  that I bought the marzipan. Ideally you would make  white marzipan for this, but I find that the ground almonds you buy in the shops are just not fine enough to get a smooth marzipan unless you sieve them and grind them further, and yet again I had little time for that.

The only other thing to watch out for is the set of the creme mousseline.  The beloved reminded that this was on the Great British Bake Off a few series ago and a couple of the contestants’ cakes collapsed in a oozing mess (see below).  The episode is no longer available on the internet for me to see what went wrong, but given the high butter content of creme mousseline, I would have thought as long as you leave it in the fridge long enough while still in the mould, the risk of this is quite small.

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Despite all of the twists and turns, all I can say though is that this is a must do cake for anyone to try.

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The Recipe

The Ingredients

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For the sponge

  • 350g unsalted butter
  • 350g golden caster sugar
  • 5 medium eggs
  • 360g plain flour, sifted
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder, sifted
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla paste
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tbsp whole milk

For the creme mousseline

  • 3 medium eggs
  • 120g castor sugar
  • 25g cornflour
  • 250ml whole milk
  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp kirsch
  • 1 vanilla pod

For the syrup

  • 100 ml water
  • 100g sugar
  • 30ml kirsch

For the Filling

  • 1200g strawberries
  • 500g white or uncoloured marzipan
  • pink food colouring

The Stages

  • make the sponges and cool
  • make the syrup and cool
  • make the creme pat stage of the creme mousseline and cool
  • finish off the creme mousseline
  • prepare the fillings
  • assemble and decorate

The Method

The Sponges

  • pre heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)
  • sift the flour and baking powder together
  • line the bottom of two 8 inch sandwich tins with baking parchment and grease and flour the edges
  • beat the butter and sugar and cream together until light and fluffy
  • beat in the eggs one at time with a spoonful of flour
  • stir in the vanilla extract, paste and milk
  • fold in the remaining flour
  • split between the 2 tins
  • bake for 25-30 minutes until a skewer comes out clean
  • allow to cool in in the tins

The Syrup

  • mix the water and sugar together in a pan
  • bring to the boil and boil for a minute
  • once cool add the kirsch

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The Creme Mousseline

  • scrape the vanilla pod into the milk
  • bring the milk just to the boil (take off as soon as it reaches boiling point)
  • in a separate bowl combine the eggs, sugar and cornflour and whisk to a small paste
  • stir in a little of the milk  and then pour the whole mixture back into the pan
  • bring the mixture back to the boil stirring all the time until the mixture becomes thick and gloopy
  • take off the heat and add half the butter
  • press the mixture through a sieve to take out any lumps
  • cover with cling film touching the surface to prevent a skin forming
  • allow to cool
  • once cool add the remaining butter and kirsch
  • whisk until light and fluffy

Preparing the filling

  • lightly colour the marzipan and chill
  • select strawberries of a similar size
  • slice the top off the strawberries
  • halve enough strawberries vertically to fit around the edge of the cake – they should all stand up as straight as possible when put on their ends

Assembly

  • lightly colour the marzipan and chill
  • place one of the sponges on a plate
  • place a mousse ring (or 8 inch spring form tin) around the cake
  • brush the cake with half the syrup
  • place the strawberries directly onto the sponge around the edge with the cut side of the strawberries facing out
  • add a layer of creme mousseline making sure it is pressed into the gaps of the strawberries, holding them in place
  • add the remaining strawberries whole and fill the rest of the cake
  • cover with the remaining creme mousseline and smooth flat
  • brush the remaining syrup on the second cake and place on top of the creme
  • roll out the marzipan and cut to the size of the cake
  • lay across the top of the cake
  • place in the fridge for 3 hours to allow the cake to set
  • take out the mould and decorate to your desire

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul Hutchinson says:

    Whatever the drama the cake was fantastic and 2cm was fine for me (maybe greedy!!). In bulking up the recipe are you calculating volume because that is what you need to consider. Let me know

    Like

    1. Pi x r squared x h – but it still came out way too much. The problem is you don’t know how high the base recipe is.

      Like

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